Updated: Dec 30, 2019
When I first became a cover supervisor, I was worried about how I would feel not having full ownership of a classroom anymore. How was I going to earn the respect and ensure progress for a class that I would only know for a lesson or two?
I had seen (from when I had supply teachers covering my classes) the state of a classroom after a lesson. Displays destroyed. Books ripped. Paper on the floor.
I often wondered what happened during these lessons and knew the majority of work would have to be recycled as most students think a supply lesson is an excuse to talk. Granted, I knew that my 'good' students would have completed the cover, but I knew the majority needed a firm hand.
The picture above is a slight exaggeration, but this is a similar image to how I saw my classroom when I finally returned to it. I was determined to never put another teacher through this. So here are 6 tips to be a successful cover supervisor and ensure you are in charge of your cover class. These are based on conversations I have had with students, teachers and my own experiences.
1. Arrive early
Arrive early, so you have an opportunity to check the cover work. Log onto SIMS - or check the register if you are unsure how the system works - and make sure that you have enough worksheets. The cover that I have done this week have had the same worksheets for a few lessons, and this led to major disruptive behaviour.
Children tend to misbehave when the work is set too high or too low; this is due to boredom or gaps in knowledge. Once this happens, it can be difficult to get the class back on track. You will also have an opportunity to see whether there are any children with SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) and make the appropriate changes. For example, I had a student who could only write on purple/pink paper and this had not been available with the set cover.
2. Set your stall
This is based on something I learnt during my teacher training. When you walk into a classroom you need to ensure you have set your ground rules right at the beginning. I usually start off by explaining by expectations and acknowledging the typical behaviours of a supply lesson. I find that enforcing a 'no talking whilst I'm speaking rule' works well, as you can demand the attention of the class and explain the premise of the lesson. I also explain how my teaching ethos works. Personally, I am big on mutual respect and I find that students appreciate this concept and respond well. Once you have established this rule - and made it clear that you will enforce the behaviour policy - it's easier to have a positive lesson.
I tend to stand in the middle of the room at the front to signal to students that I am delivering the next set of instructions. I thank the students who are quiet and make eye contact with those who are still talking. I find that the 'disapproving mum look' works better than 'annoyed teacher'.
3. Follow through
If you have said that you are going to do something: do it. This doesn't always have to be something negative. For example, I promised a year 8 class that they could play a Kahoot game on the topic, providing they had completed their revision tasks. Or, if they complete the test in silence, I will give them achievement points etc. If they break the boundaries of mutual respect, I make sure that I enforce the behaviour policy, regardless of whether it is a 'good' or a 'naughty' child.
I had an incident with a usually well-behaved child, and they decided that they would start banging the table with their fists. I issued a behaviour point and this showed the class that I was firm, but fair. Teachers can often make the mistake of trying to make an example of someone who is consistently disruptive and allow children who are less overtly misbehaving get away with it. Students will respond much better, if they know that you are consistent.
Granted, achievement points tend to work better with the lower years, but positive praise works wonders!
4. Be relatable!
After having a conversation with a year 9 student today, I learnt that this was probably one of the best qualities a cover supervisor can have. She told me that she found teachers (especially supply teachers) were "up themselves". They all had ideas of what "nice teachers" were, and mostly it was their ability to listen.
I think as teachers we forget what it was like to be students. Students want to be heard and feel valued. A lot of frustration arises with a lack of structure and if pupils are faced with a teacher who is adamant that they require absolute silence in a supply lesson - we have a problem. Alternatively, the opposite is also damaging. If you allow the class to 'roam free' this also creates issues.
This student told me that I was relatable and honest and she felt as though I treated her like a human being. I was teaching a science lesson; I'm an English teacher. It was not my specialist subject and I told the children that. But, I offered alternatives. GCSE bitesize, youtube links, text books, access to computers and the option to work in groups. I finally found the holy grail of teaching : an engaging lesson where all the children are making progress! #differentiation
Most importantly, I didn't lie and try and make myself an authority figure in a subject I haven't studied in fifteen years!
5. Make sure the classroom is clean before you leave!
This ensures you leave a good impression. I can openly tell you that this is one of the biggest worries a teacher has when they are off school.
"What will my classroom look like when I get back??"
I have had countless conversations with colleagues who fear what they will return to.
It is such a good feeling when you come back into your classroom and it hasn't been destroyed!
Set yourself 5 minutes before the bell and make sure you collect the books, textbooks and do a quick sweep of the classroom. Ask the children to return their equipment, and stand behind their chairs ready to leave. Take charge and dismiss them table by table - if you have a repeat cover, as most cover supervisors do - this assists in setting your expectations in stone.
6. Be sociable!
It's hard when you walk into a staffroom and you don't know anybody. Supply teachers are easy to spot with their different coloured lanyards and the badges that never provide a flattering angle (eye roll) but get talking to people! You can find out all sorts of information about everything you need to know. For example: the food to avoid in the canteen; tricky students; job offers; school policies and so forth.
You can find ways to improve yourself as a teacher/cover supervisor by asking for help with behaviour management techniques, specialist subject advice, assistance with classroom managment etc.
You can be the person who provides a sanity restoring conversation in between lessons. You will learn so many things and if your position turns into a long-term cover - you can build relationships and friendships, and that is sometimes the difference between a 'good' day and a 'bad' one!
If you are thinking of going into teaching or cover supervision, leave a comment or send me an email with any questions. If you have anymore to add to the list, I would be happy to make ammendments!
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